One very important understanding about the soul is that it is our inner spiritual potential. This is the simplest and most important understanding. Our soul is what we can be, what is possible for us to be. Our soul contains the very best of who we can be. It contains all of our greater possible spiritual powers and qualities. So all we have to do is look to our own soul, which lives in the very center of our inner being. Our soul is like the seed of who we can be. It is already here in us. And like a seed, it contains the vision and power of its possible completion. In other words, our possible perfection or greatness of self is already here within us, contained in our own soul that is living at the center of our inner being.
Maybe one's soul has not yet been experienced directly. Maybe it has not yet been discovered or realized. But then, try to understand that the soul is your inner spiritual potential. It is not yet realized and maybe not really being expressed as yet; but understand that your soul is still within you - it is within you as your divine potential. A potential is an inherent capacity, or ability, or possibility, which has not yet been actualized or manifested. It is like a seed within the deep soil of oneself, which has yet to emerge, yet to appear, yet to come forth. It is meant to come forth, but this requires necessary water and other nutrients and also care; otherwise, it might not grow at all but instead just remain as a hidden seed. The soul is meant to emerge in us, but there is no guarantee of this and in many people it is never realized.
People have many ideas about the soul, about what it is or else about if it exists at all. But let us begin a simple inquiry, without a lot of metaphysical or theological ideas getting in the way. Make a self inquiry about whether or not you have any inner spiritual potential. Reflect upon this question with sincerity and honesty. Or look at a child you love, and ask inside if you believe they have any inner spiritual potential. Even if you do not particularly see this spiritual potential, do you believe that the child has such potentials within them. If this is true, then this is the soul.
The soul is simply a word for our inner spiritual potential. That's what it means. There are more complex aspects to what the soul is, how it develops and how it carries on, but first we need to have a simple, essential understanding of the soul.
Most everyone, from the very religious to the very atheist, would probably agree that a child has inner potentials and also that they, the person, have inner potentials. We usually feel this is true about ourselves and also others. Of course though, we might not have so much faith that these inner potentials will get actualized. Actualization is quite another story. We all have potentials as yet actualized, but there is no guarantee in the actualization.
Yet some people might question or be confused about the meaning of "spiritual" in this understanding of soul. That is, what distinguishes spiritual potential from ordinary human potential? Spiritual potentials are extra-ordinary potentials, beyond what science would assume are physical potentials -- such as learning a language, communication, climbing, making tools, building, and other abilities we have that have been carried forward through human evolution.
However, spiritual potentials are those remarkable possible character traits that appear to be almost unexplainable; such as a deep sense of love and a caring for others, a sense of belonging with all of life, an inner urge to harmonize and to be a good, helpful person, or an inner motivation to improve the quality of our self and become a better person, or to work for justice and fairness in the world. A more esoteric potential would be the potential for realizing the Divine, or God. We have many spiritual potentials; these are just a few them.
So, we each have this spiritual potential, this soul. But in some people it is closer to being actually evident, while in others it is more deeply hidden and perhaps obscured.
Thus, we each have a spiritual soul, with spiritual potentials, but this soul may not yet be realized by the person, nor expressed through him/her. So in this case, we would say that they have a soul, but it is still in latency, because they do not yet have any realization, consciousness, or experience of it. As such, then, their soul is non-existent and unreal to them - that is, it is non-existently unreal to their present consciousness and understanding. Because if one does not have any experience of their soul, and if the soul is not really expressing through the person; then what really does the person have? They still have a latent soul containing spiritual potential, but they don't have any realization or expression of this, and therefore their soul non-existent in their life.
One could then say that they don't really have a soul as yet. Some spiritual teachings will speak in this way. But it's important to not misunderstand what those teachings are really meaning. They don't mean that the person is without a soul as potential; they simply mean that the person has no soul, as yet, in their consciousness and in their life. It would be more clear to say that this person has not yet realized their soul, or that their soul has not yet actualized through them or has not yet developed in them.
Each soul is, in essence and at first, a potential and a possibility. So we say the soul is, in essence, a potential. But the real purpose and possibility of our soul is to become actualized through our mind/feeling/body -- which we are calling the personality. This is the person as we know our self to be. It is our evident selfness as presently experienced -- in mind, emotion, and body. Our personality is the combined functioning of our conscious thinking mind, our feelings and emotions, and our physical body with its movements and actions. So in these Teachings we distinguish between soul and personality; though when the soul fuses through and actually expresses through the personality, then soul and personality become equal in meaning.
Our soul wants to embody. It wants to manifest. It wants to be realized and expressed in life. Of course though, this is who we really are; we are the soul in essence and in truth. But this outward part of us, the personality, usually gains the most attention and identification. This personality vehicle, which we most often know as our self, is just one half of who we are in total. Our other half is our soul - and yet the soul is most often unknown, unrealized, and unexpressed in many people.
The very purpose and aim of the soul is to be actualized in life, which means to be realized and expressed. So, the very purpose and aim of our life should be to realize and express our inner soul - our inner spiritual potentials.
Now that we have some understanding of what the soul is, we can proceed further. The soul begins as potential, which we can understand as the soul essence, or in other words, the essence of what the soul is is potential. Our inner spiritual potential, as soul, can also be understood as our spiritual seed -- with all of our potential spiritual qualities in it. But then this seed of soul potential does not have to merely remain as potential. It can start to develop and actualize. This development/actualization is like a baby developing from its egg, or like a plant growing from its seed.
Our soul is first like a seed in us -- in the deeper structure of our psyche. For many, this will remain as just a seed, because it has not actualized in us. Yet the soul is meant to be developed and become actualized into what it can be. The soul is meant to develop into a manifested soul-personality. The possibility is this. The soul seed can develop, by stages, into a full flowering tree. But this is its potential -- which may or may not be actualized. Soul development, or actualization, requires sufficient conditions. The soul has its own will-impulse to develop and actualize, but this will depend on the personality and other conditions. Development of the soul see requires the necessary nurturing conditions of good soil, sufficient water and lots of light.
Good soil is the condition of the physical body and its physical conditions. It is best that the physical body is healthy and vitally energetic.
Water is the love and other good emotional energy we give to our self. Notice that we can give love and good emotions to our own self, as well as others giving good emotions to us; so it is not just about what we receive from others. Our inner soul needs love, just as our outer personality needs love. So give love to your inner soul. Give care and love. Treat the inner divine seed in yourself, or this inner divine child, with love and care.
Thirdly, the inner soul seed requires lots of light, which is the light of our mind. We give light to our inner soul when we recognize the importance and beauty of this deeper core in our self. And we give further light when we understand more about our soul. Recognition and understanding are the main ways to give light to our soul, and also to the soul of others.
Finally, it is necessary that the personality ego receive the soul. The personality ego is the controlling manager or director in the personality; it is the 'I will' of the personality. So this personality will, which is who you are in most moments, needs to be receiving of the inner soul. You need to be in a receiving mode, in relation to your soul; that is, be open to the soul and receive in recognition what the soul is, or who the soul is -- or in other words, who you really are. This is known as receiving and allowing the soul to flourish.
The soul needs to be allowed to come into blossom. The soul is essentially like a seed, but it wishes to come forth and blossom. But to blossom more fully in our consciousness and life, our soul needs recognition and attention. Finally, it needs to be allowed to reveal itself.
Our soul is our innerness, our inner essence, which is spiritually good, loving, caring, and wanting to manifest this spiritual essence. Our soul is like a child within us; not a selfish or egotistical child, but a spiritual child with pure heart and pure mind, made of pure love and pure light. So in us already is this spiritual purity, this inner love and light, this inner beingness who really cares about life and others, and who really wants to manifest the most goodness and beauty possible.
But this soul within us might still be very weak and not so powerful. In fact, this is the usual state of the soul in most people. Not so powerful. Or very often it is so weak and undeveloped that it is rarely even noticed. So the soul within us is spiritually pure and full of love, but usually it is undeveloped and weak. It is undeveloped because it has not been given enough attention and love. It is weak because our outer personality and other social power-houses are so dominating.
Our soul is so often hidden from our experience, because the forces of our own outer personality and also of others around us are so dominating and overpowering. Our inner soul is dominated and overpowered by the forces of our practical mind, our reactive emotions, our social conflicts and practical problems. Social drama and also personality patterns keep our consciousness so occupied, that our inner soul is unnoticed, unrecognized.
Thus, psychologically, the soul is weak compared to the personality. But the soul can grow. The soul can develop and become more real and powerful in our life.
How can the soul develop? -- by our love and attention. By our recognition. By our encouragement. By our receptivity. And by our allowing of the soul to come forth, to speak forth and creatively manifest.
Notice the relational connection between soul and child. The children around us are like souls in progress. So, how we can best relate with children is much the same as how we can best relate with our soul, and help our soul develop further.
Three important conditions.
First, soul development/actualization depends on the existential conditions of one's life - which includes physical and social conditions. For example, it will be a difficult condition for the soul to develop, from potential to actualization, if the person's physical environment is full of danger and threat, or if the social environment is full of uncaring people or fighting. The physical and social environment needs to be nurturing, with love and recognition; rather than oppressive, threatening, or confusing. This is all the basis of any psychological healthy development.
Next, soul development depends on the personal condition - which is the condition of personal attitude and will. In other words, the person them self plays an essential role in their own soul realization/actualization. This is because there needs to be a favorable relationship, in the person, between the personality ego and the inner latent soul. The inner soul of a person cannot emerge into wakeful consciousness, nor actualize into expression, unless there is some degree of agreement and allowing from the personal ego. Our ego is the normal everyday 'director' or 'captain', or that I-self which is normally in control of personal decisions and actions.
From the personal ego there needs to be an attitude of wanting to discover the soul within and also an attitude of allowing the soul to emerge. For it could be a problematic obstacle if the person, or ego, is not at all caring about their inner soul, or inner truth. Or even worse if the person is pushing the soul away from emergence, in order to avoid the changes in life that may come about with soul realization.
Then thirdly, soul development depends on higher help, which could come from living teachers and healers, or from invisible angels, guides or masters. This condition of higher help is necessary; yet this higher help will surely come if the other conditions are welcoming. And sometimes even, there can be higher help in spite of the other kinds of conditions being poor. As well, a general help comes from an inherent force in the soul itself, which ultimately comes from the Divine Being of God.
So in the development of the soul, there can be help from spiritual teachers, or even from inner-world guides, but this is only possible if the outer world distractions and 'worldly salesmen of modern society' do not dominate the person's psyche. We each have access to guardian angels and inner masters/guides, who wish to help our spiritual soul grow, but these must inevitably compete with the forces of society, media, family and friends. For there are many forces vying for one's personal attention and, thus, many ways to be sidetracked from possible spiritual help, either outer help or inner help.
Soul realization and development also requires some extra effort, beyond the ordinary 'go with the flow'. Realization of the soul requires efforts of attention and meditation, as well as efforts to be truly honest and authentic. Expression of the soul requires efforts of creative work and perseverance.
So remember that real work is also required; real effort. Allowing is an essential attitude, in relation to the soul emerging, but if we do not make extra efforts as well, then it won't happen. This is because effort moves energies; thus, effort is always needed in any spiritual or healing or transformational success.
Also required is a two-fold attitude of allowing and denying.
We need to allow our inner soul to come forth and be expressed -- through our mind, emotions, and actions. Yet we also have to deny our personality-self to fixate on things and on habits. Remember that the personality-self -- of mind, emotions, and actions -- can be the beautiful expresser of the spiritual soul, but it can also be the habitual oppressor of the soul. So the conscious ego self, who we are as manager of self, has to allow the soul, but also has to occasionally deny the habits and reactions of self.
Unfortunately though, there is no guarantee that our soul will be realized or expressed. Our spiritual potential, our soul, may not ever get realized or actualized, because of our personality fixations. Also, the world around us can sidetrack our possible attention and recognition of our soul. So, both world and our self can be diversions that prevent soul realization and expression.